I don’t make New Year resolutions. I used to, but typically forgot about whatever false promise I’d made to myself by St. Patrick’s Day. When friends and family ask me, every year, what I will “resolve” to do in the coming months the answer is usually some kind of smart-ass response. Saying something like “I want to volunteer more” or “Save more money” seems both common and I know I don’t mean it. Alia and I volunteer quite a bit, though she does much, much more than I. Who doesn’t want to try to save more money? Dieting, exercise, reading more books: all things that hundreds of people say every year. All things that hundreds of people let fall flat because it’s easy to excuse away your own self-regulation.
There is one thing I’ve really emphasized for myself in the last one to two years. Well, more so in the last six months. I have intentionally pressed myself to be more accepting of life in general. I don’t mean settling, and I certainly don’t mean giving in to things that otherwise might cause conflict. I’m talking about a mindset that requires me to work with the world I’m in, not against it or outside it. I won’t get too philosophical because I don’t think that’s what you came here to read. But I can refer you to Rudayard Kipling’s poem If- to get a better understanding of what I mean. It speaks to me in a very personal way, considering some of the crap that I’ve encountered as an individual, but also what we’ve seen as a country. Here’s just a snippit:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools
(Hang on a sec, I have to get a tissue to wipe my eyes.)
Okay, you understand where I’m coming from so you can better grasp where I’m going. Because while I don’t make resolutions every January, this year I will continue to repeat another poem to myself. Terre Haute native Max Ehrmann was born in 1872. He graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle and then from Harvard. In his lifetime he saw two world wars and the Great Depression. He worked as an attorney, but also in his family’s meat-packing business. It wasn’t until he was forty years old that he decided to write full time. It’s a story you typically associate with big cities like New York or Chicago. But no, Max grew up here, in Indiana, in the city where I live.
At first, that’s what makes him so relatable. Maybe he walked down the sidewalk in front of my house. Maybe we’ve sat in the same spots on Wabash Avenue. Actually you can go sit next to the statue of Max at the corner of Wabash and 7th Street any time you like. The depth of his writing though, should strike any person with intrigue. Adlai Stevenson was found with Max’s poem Desiderata next to him when he passed away. Indeed it has touched many individuals from many walks of life. I don’t think it reads like a poem. More as a set of guidelines to live by in the coming year, and years after. Always. Like that Baz Luhrmann spoken word song Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) that was popular when I graduated from high school, Desiderata speaks to the adult version of me that is now capable of understanding a more mature, global view. Which Mr. Ehrmann definitely would have possessed by the time he died in 1945.
Desiderata is Latin for “things to be desired”. It’s full of advice and encouragement. A reminder to keep your head, as Kipling suggested. Thoreau would call it, “living deliberately.” Moreover to never give up, lead by example, and teach others. One of my favorite stanzas:
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater
and lesser persons than yourself.
If you’re like me and don’t want to make false promises to yourself or others, this is the way to go. Read Desiderata, remember Max worked hard and grew up in Indiana too. If we could all be more like that we wouldn’t have to be so concerned with grand aspirations of saving the world. So, my fellow Central Indiana Hoosiers, “Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.” My best to you and yours in 2017.
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